Foldlite is a relatively new boat on the market, with a completely new, and novel, design. Rather than the traditional skin-on-frame design, which dates back hundreds if not thousands of years, Foldlite uses a number of modules made of folded, die cut Coroplast (corrugated plastic sheet) that are pinned together, and covers this with a skin that holds it all together and provides the waterproof layer. Ideally this method would enable one to make a relatively inexpensive, light, boat that could easily be shortened or lengthened by adding or subtracting modules, and using a different skin.
The boat under test is actually from the second generation of Foldlite boats. Last year they marketed a small boat called the “Monarch” that was discontinued and replaced with the current models. Foldlite claims that the new crop of boats deliver a “safe, stable, durable” boat weighing only 20 lbs- lighter than any other similarly sized boat on the market. They also promise a boat that can be assembled in only 15 to 20 minutes, which would put it on a par with most folders on the market.
My test boat arrived in a compact backpack that certainly seemed every bit as light as advertised. Inside, everything was tied together and wrapped in sealed plastic bags:
The instructions were a bit sketchy, but seemed complete enough. The first step was to pre-bend the embossed Coroplast panels along the fold lines, and then attech them in sections by means of molded in snaps.
I couldn’t get the snaps to engage, and sent a note to the company asking for some direction. I received a note saying that I probably misaligned the panels, as the boat had been assembled only last week with no difficulty, but if I couldn’t snap the sections I could simply use the ribs and pins to hold the sections together, which I did, thus:
This worked well enough. As you can see from the photo, the sections are attached to one another by folding up tabs, which are then slipped into molded ribs. Nylon “Quick Connect” pins are inserted through holes in the panels and ribs to hold everything together. These pins don’t proivde a lot of retention force, but merely keep things aligned during this stage of assembly.
As I assembled the boat I discovered that perhaps 25% of the snap fittings went together easily, and the rest with great difficulty or not at all, so perhaps there were some manufacturing problems with this particular sample. Incidentally, at this point I had about an hour of assembly time in the boat, not counting the time I spent having difficulty with the snaps. Part of this time was spent pre-folding the Coroplast panels, so one would hope that future assemblies would go more quickly.
The next step was installing the top panels and floorboards. The top panels went on without too much difficulty, but the floorboards seemed to be missing. An eMail to the company resulted in a reply that replacements would be sent forthwith. They arrived a few days later, and I finshed the assembly.
The last step involves stretching the hull over the assmbled Coroplast modules, pulling it tight, fastening velcro straps and attachments and tensioning an elastic cord that runs around the cockpit. Here also the Foldlite differs greatly i from other folders. Most folding kayaks use either a heavy-gauge Hypalon or PVC hull, or in the case of Feathercraft, a tough Polyurethane hull that makes up a significant part of the weight of the boat. Foldlite’s hull is made of silicone coated 300 denier Polyester, and weighs very little- perhaps a pound or two. This certainly cuts the weight of the boat, but gives up much in terms of tensile strength and abrasion resistence. It’s also somwhat stretchy. Stitching is relatively light and only sealed below the waterline. As the tension of the hull is all that keeps the boat rigid and in one piece, this could be an area for concern. GIven that even the heavy 1200 denier Hypalon and PVC coated fabrics used by most folding kayak makers can be damaged by coral and rocks, I would not expext this lightweight fabric to hold up to any sort of abrasion.
Final assembly instructions are somewhat sketchy, but referring to the on-line assembly manual cleared up things. Total assembly time was between 90 and 120 minutes.
Foldlite says their boats are designed for “light duty”, and I wasn’t sure that I could strap the boat to my roof rack for the 4 mile trip without possibly damaging it, so I simply shoved it into my Honda and tied a red flag on the back:
I picked a location near home with calm, flat, water and no wind- the kind of water the Foldlite was designed for. Because the boat has no secondary flotation in the form of sponsons or air bags, I put in at a shallow cove where the water is only a few feet deep.
My first impression was that this boat has zero tracking- as I entered the boat started sklipping sideways, and it took a lot of constant correction to keep it going in a straight line. I think a beginner would be overwhelmed trying to get this boat to track. Looking at the hull profile, this isn’t surprising, as the bottom is pretty much flat, and there’s no skeg or rudder.
As I paddled, one of the deck panels repeatedly popped loose from its velcro attachment inside the hull as the boat flexed from paddling. The rail holding the foot rest pedal alos has a tendency to pop loose from the attachment points on the ribs. I suspect that if caught in the trough of a good-sized wave the boat would experience some serious problems.
Back on land, I inspected the hull for tears or signs on abrasion. I noticed that at least one of the darts sewn into the hull at one end had started to open up:
This was just the silicone sealent applied to the ooutside of the hull, not the threads themselves, but it did open a path for water to wick in. On repacking the boat into its backpack, the pack- which is made of the same fabric as the hull- ripped open at a seam.
As we noted in the beginning, Foldlite promises a “safe, stable, durable” boat. How well do they compare with other boats in their price range? The made in Thailand 12′ kayak I tested sells for $995. Two close price competitors would be the Chinese-made 12′ Pakboats Puffin, which sells for $890- $105 less than this boat- and the US made Folbot Citibot at $995. Both the Puffin and the Citibot are close in weight (23lbs for the Puffin and 25 for the Citibot) and both have far stronger, simpler, easier to assemble frames and a much tougher, more abrasion resistant hull made of PVC or Hypalon laminated to 1100-1600 denier polyester. That kind of heavy-duty coated fabric that absorb a lot more punishment than the lightweight fabric used in the Foldlight. Both the Puffin and the Citibot also have sponsons that provide secondary flotation in the case of hull failure. And both can handle waves and surf that would probably collapse the hull of the Foldlite.
Foldlite’s price range ($795-$1495) is a very competitive one, with a lot of well-engineered, tested boats from makers with a long history of designing and building folding kayaks, and I would imagine they will have a difficult time competing in this market.
— michael edelman
Foldlite appears to have left the market- not surprising, given the quality of the boats. I see some being sold for around $200, but I would still not recommend them, even at that price. You would be far better off with a similarly-priced inflatable from Sea Eagle.